It's the question that I'm asked most frequently when people want to chat about politics. Who's going to win? It doesn't matter the race really. The question is almost the political equivalent of commenting on the weather. It gets a conversation going where none exists, and is an entry into picking the brains of other politicos to compare notes and strategies for an upcoming campaign season.
And yet, for this election cycle in Georgia, it is the wrong question at this time. In many of the GOP primary contests, there are multiple credible candidates. Seven are currently competing in the race for U.S. Senate. At least six have indicated they will run for Georgia's 11th Congressional race, with four of them being considered contenders. Georgia's 10th and 1st Congressional districts are also a bit of a jump ball, though one candidate who sought to replace Congressman Jack Kingston withdrew his name from consideration last week.
It should be noted that on the Democratic side, there are at least four who have announced their intention to run for U.S. Senate as well. Good luck getting a Democratic official to acknowledge this, however. Unlike the GOP, there does appear to be motivation for the party structure to assist in picking the eventual winner.
Prognostication this far from Election Day is difficult at best under normal circumstances in a crowded field. An added degree of difficulty has been thrown in courtesy of a federal judge who moved Georgia's primary dates in order to extend time for runoff elections where necessary.
The result will be Georgia's earliest primary on record -- May 20. The change also gives an unprecedented nine weeks for runoffs where necessary, with the runoff elections scheduled to be held July 22. The effect of this is much more significant than adding six weeks to an extension of the runoff calendar.
A three-week runoff generally favored whoever had the momentum going into the primary election. After all, three weeks allows scarce time to raise additional funds, get endorsements of former opponents, integrate grass roots supporters into a campaign structure, cut new ads and produce new direct mail, and get all of that in front of voters before they return to the polls.
An additional six weeks turns a nine-week runoff into an election that will be perceptibly different than the primary campaign to even the retail voter. This is time to hone issues much more specifically suited to a head to head contest based on which two candidates have survived that long. This is time to schedule a few extra debates. And there is time for significant fundraising.
The element of money should never be discounted in political campaigns, and the extended runoff cycle will likely have an effect of depressing overall fundraising for the first part of this campaign. Many are likely to sit on their checkbooks until they are only having to make a bet with a 50% chance they have made a prudent investment. In a seven candidate race, there is no rush to bet early. There will be plenty of time to buy friendships during a nine week runoff. As such, expect some to see even more difficulty raising money from their base going forward for reasons other than the economy.
The legislature is expected to move the dates for statewide elections to coincide with those for federal races set by the judge, adding another fundraising wrinkle to this election season. Statewide office holders are prohibited from raising money when the legislature is in session. Thus, incumbents will be facing re-election with perhaps just eight weeks or so of time to fundraise during 2014 before the first votes are cast.
While those in leadership will not likely be hurt by the change, those down the seniority list will face an increasingly anti-incumbent electorate with less time to raise money with which to promote their good deeds. The playing field may have just become a bit more level for those who are considering primary challenges.
In short, the move of primary dates will have more of an effect on who Georgia chooses to nominate from the respective parties than a simple bit of timing. Those who invest real money in campaigns have been given incentive to sit on the sidelines and slow play their decisions. The money will still show up for these campaigns, but many writing the checks will likely not start doing so until May 21. And that's the date when it is time to start asking the question: "Who's going to win?"
Charlie Harper, author and editor of the Peach Pundit blog, writes on Georgia politics and government; www.peachpundit.com.